Latter-day Saint Video Vault: “The Long Road Back” Offers Awkward, Dated Repentance Lesson

A man despairs

Latter-day Saint Video Vault celebrates decades of uplifting, funny, weird, and sometimes cringe-worthy Mormon-related videos, most of which are now found on YouTube. Join Jared Jones every other Friday as he breaks down one of these classics.

[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ife is pretty crazy right now, so why not take a look at something light-hearted. Something like a film dealing with the fallout of breaking the law of chastity? I’m sure that is EXACTLY what you had in mind.

This week we look at The Long Road Back, a film produced in 1965 by BYU for the L.D.S. Department of Education (precursor to the Church Educational System). This film was based on a story of the same name by Elder S. Dilworth Young of the Seventy.

The film begins in a darkened hallway. We see Bob saying good-bye to Sue through a crack in the door. The exchange is awkward and the underscoring suggests the night was not quite what was expected. Something happened that shouldn’t have. He promises to call the next day and begins walking home.

Cut to Art, Bob’s roommate. He continues working on the typewriter as Bob comes in and gets ready for bed. Bob looks downtrodden as Art looks for a missing paper and takes a call from his girlfriend, Elaine. Art and Elaine exchange small talk and their love for each other is apparent. They make plans to go to the student ward square dance and end the phone call.

Bob comments on their saccharine exchange and asks if this thing between Art and Elaine is for real. Is it for life? Art assures him it is more than life—it’s for eternity and they are making sure that it stays that way.  Art looks at Bob and asks him if he is feeling okay. He just says he needs to go to bed and Art also decides to turn in.

They decide to have roommate prayer and Bob asks Art to say the prayer. As they get ready to pray Bob pauses and asks “Have you ever felt completely disgusted with yourself? Like completely disgusted?”

Art explains that sure he does things that make him down on himself, and presses Bob for more details. Bob gets angry and just tells him to get on with the prayer.

We next see Art and Elaine in an institute class about temple marriage. The teacher quotes Brigham Young and Paul and asks “Can everyone agree that temple marriage is the only way to get married?”

After the institute class we see what can only be described as an intense square dance segment. There is wholesome do si do-ing, reeling, and other forms of square dancery. Elaine and Art comment they can’t see Sue or Bob there. Art invited Bob but they decided not to come. They walk to get some refreshments and Art comments on a “big girl” who twirled him around a little too forcefully. Way to be a class act, Art. We are supposed to like you here. Elaine laughs it off and said he was probably interested in him but Art assures her she is the only one for him. Elaine goes on to say Bob and Sue really should have been in that institute class, but Art disagreed and spoke of Bob’s odd behavior the previous night. “He didn’t act like someone who wants to get married. He’s planning on a mission. He was strange.” Art spoke of Bob having a private telephone conversation which was out of character for him. “I don’t like it. It’s disturbing my joie de vivre.” Fancy.

Art and Elaine run into Bishop and Sister Wilson. Bishop Wilson has the charming quality of calling his wife “mother,” which is probably a sign of respect of being the mother of their children, but it’s always sounded weird to me. Bishop sees Elaine and Art and reminds Art that Bob has an appointment with him and could Art remind him? Umm…possibly confidentiality violation.

Art comes home to see Bob all dressed up and sitting on the bed. He is still upset. Art tries to help but just wants to be left alone. Art tries to understand and Bob insists he can’t know.

Bob apologizes and hands him a note that went with the discarded flowers on his bed. The note is from Sue’s parents and speaks of trust. Bob says Sue threw the notes and flowers in his face and assumes Art can connect the dots. Art continues to struggle with understanding.

Bob then talks about how Sue will probably “tell her folks.” It slowly dawns on art that something more happened the other night.

Bob opens up. It started innocently. He said he and Sue just always wanted to avoid group dates or double dates and find ways to be alone. They naturally became more and more intimate and got themselves into compromising situations too often. “The Bishop talked to us but we didn’t think anything could happen to us. We could stop. Now it’s too late.”

So to catch up—they had sex.

Bob realizes that the Bishop probably wants to talk about a mission. “It’s been my dream. Will I be able to go now? After this?”

Art says he doesn’t know if he will be able to go on a mission or not. “It’s a serious thing. You can’t go back but you can go forward, and with true repentance there is hope.” Bob seems thoughtful.

Cut to Bob calling to find out when he can catch the next bus out of town. He doesn’t know how to tell the Bishop what he has done. He is going to run and Art convinces him to take Art’s car and go think. Bob drives out to the woods and walks. He eventually finds a place to pray for strength to do what he knows he needs to do.

Later, in the Bishop’s home, Bob confesses what he and Sue did. He admits he didn’t follow the Bishop’s counsel. They convinced themselves it was okay and nothing serious would happen. He didn’t feel right about asking God for help to overcome it when he couldn’t find the will within himself to stop. He ends, “Can I ever be forgiven?”

Bishop Wilson ponders a moment and says “The Lord does forgive, but the way of the transgressor is hard. It’s a long road back.” He admits that the meeting was to discuss a mission but now that would have to be delayed.

“What do we do? Where do we go from here?” Bob pleads.

The Bishop reminds him that forgiveness comes from total repentance. He is glad that Sue came to see him as well. “The Lord still loves you. He is glad you know how serious this is.” Bishop Wilson reminds him to keep going and demonstrate his repentance over time.

“If you can do what the Lord requires you will know you can be forgiven…and the Lord will remember [your sins] no more.”

Bob looks up with resolve as the film ends.

The Long Road Back takes a surprisingly sensitive approach to dealing with immorality and repentance. I truly expected to see 30 minutes of comparisons to chewed up gum or food made with dirt in it along with a few charming 60’s artifacts. The artifacts are still there but the overt judging I expected is absent. The acting may fall short a bit, but the words really try to communicate the blessings that come from repentance. Although the story took Bob’s point of view it did acknowledge the other individual in the relationship. Bob often spoke of “we” rather than “I” or “she.”

In taking a few jibes at the film and its execution I am not trying to make light of the seriousness of sin and real repentance. I have known people who have had challenges such as Bob and Sue’s and used it as an opportunity to build meaningful lives full of faith and family. I also know of some who cannot get out of the feeling they are damaged and beyond the love of the Savior. In its own clunky, awkward and dated way, The Long Road Back reminds us no one is.

Thoughts, Musings & Trivia

  • Elder S. Dilworth Young was called to the First Council of the Seventy in 1945. He was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy in 1975 and was designated an Emeritus General Authority in 1978. He passed away in 1981.
  • Elder Young was an author and poet. Many of his works appeared in the Ensign.
  • President Brigham Young was Elder Young’s Great-Great Uncle.

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